I’ve spent the last two days at a TA Partnership meeting on youth involvement in Systems of Care. For those of you who don’t know, Systems of Care is a coordination framework for ensuring that the individuals and organizations involved in providing care for young people who are in foster care, who have been homeless, or other circumstances where our communities are responsible for an individual young person’s well-being. The question this group of practitioners is considering is how to effectively and sustainably involve young people in their own care. I am very humbled by the amount of knowledge, depth and perspective the folks here possess, and it drives home a point for me.
About 5 years ago my friend and ally, Andrea Felix, wrote a paper about the Youth Voice Movement for Youth Service America. She suggested that organizations committed to Youth Voice be connected to each other, and working with organizations Andrea facilitated a series of forums in cities across the U.S. In response I wrote an article for the National Youth Leadership Council addressing the reality that the Youth Voice Movement had always existed – it just exists in ways a lot of people aren’t capable of seeing.
After spending 9 years looking for new ways of seeing Youth Voice, I am still discovering new ways Youth Voice is happening, being taught, encouraged, engaged, infused, parlayed, leveraged and otherwise heard. I have been part of dozens of rallies, observed and interacted with hundreds of programs, studied a lot of literature and research and spent thousands of hours in conversations dialoging with youth and adults about Youth Voice. And I’m still learning more.
Sitting in a room full of fulltime Youth Voice practitioners I am reminded that we must move past our organizational and field boundaries. I have personally been exposed to Youth Voice initiatives in the following professional fields:
- K-12 public schools
- Youth service, including community service and service learning
- Community organizing
- Public health
- Research and evaluation
- Mental health
- Higher education, including community colleges, colleges and universities
- Experiential education, including high adventure and ropes courses
- Governance, including city, state and provincial, federal and national
- Arts, including dance, music, theatre and performance
And the list grows on. This list looks similar to the list of Issues on The Freechild Project website, but its different because of its meaning: rather than being the things youth are addressing with Youth Voice, these are the actual professional fields where Youth Voice is taking hold as an element.
These are the roots of the Youth Voice Movement today. These are the places, spaces and people who we need to engage in developing, strengthening, and fostering Youth Voice in communities across the nation and around the world.